The junior forward played in 32 games last season, averaging 1.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. He converted 21 of his last 27 field goals.
Simmons also provided one of the season’s top storylines with his performance at Florida State. The Webster, N.C. native celebrated his 20th birthday with a career-high eight points and four offensive rebounds in a career-high 15 minutes to help UNC secure a critical ACC road win.
While Simmons joked about wishing he could jump over opponents with greater frequency during his summer media session, his efforts to improve his game cover the spectrum.
Now entering his third year, Simmons has focused on serving as an example and becoming more of a leader in the locker room to UNC’s underclassmen. He spoke to the shock of the college game’s physicality upon enrolling at UNC and how he’s tried to soften that blow to the current freshman crop consisting of Nate Britt, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.
“I’m just trying to help the young guys get through some of the tough parts of the summer,” Jackson said. “I’m just trying to help them make the adjustments as quick as possible.”
While Jackson declined to share his current weight – he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds - he indicated that he has added strength and size since the season ended. He’s also worked on adding new elements to his game, including a more aggressive approach on the offensive end.
“I’m incorporating the pick-and-pop into my game and also the pick-and-roll,” Jackson said. “… And then also just continuing to understand our system, get it down to a science to where when it continues to come up in a game, it will just be 100 percent natural.”
The other aspect of his strength and conditioning work is a continued effort to develop his quickness.
“I’m not going to be able to jump over a lot of people, but if I can get that rebound and go back up real quick, that’s just as effective as going up and powering it over somebody,” Simmons said.
Thanks to strong spot play, such as his performance at Florida State, Simmons was able to log over 230 minutes during his sophomore season. That quantity of playing time added a level of comfort and calmness to his game, according to Simmons.
“It has inspired me to continue to get better because we did lose a little bit more games than we’re used to around here,” he said. “It came down sometimes to one or two plays and that’s something that can be corrected now. That’s what we’re working on as a team and that’s the mindset that I’m taking. Continue to focus on the little things because they do make a difference between losing 11 games and winning those 11 games and keep playing into April.”
That emphasis is already evident during UNC’s summer practice sessions, which have been designed to assimilate the freshmen into the program and have them ready for the start of fall practice.
“The freshmen being in this second session has really helped us go ahead and start our cohesiveness as a group,” Simmons said. “Isaiah, Kennedy and Nate have all embraced what we do here and they’re hitting the ground running and getting better each and every day.”
Simmons added that UNC focused on defending the ball screen as well as guarding the sideline during the first two summer practices.